The long goodbye of dementia doesn’t make the final goodbye any easier. (J Ritter RN)
Bill Ritter was born 86 years ago on June 10th, 1937, in Marble Rock, Iowa. His parents were Clifford and Dorothy (Taylor) Ritter. He was the 5th of 7 kids, with elder siblings Helen, Roy, Dean, and Jean, and younger siblings Mary and Mike. Up unto 8th grade, he was in a one-room country school, taught by his mom, in rural Floyd County. From 9th through 12th grade, he attended Charles City High School. While young, he also worked at the Sherman Nursery.
In high school he sang in the choir while terrorizing his younger siblings. After he graduated, he worked at Weedy Western Train Company while he saved for nurses training. He became friends with Sandra Jo Johnson who was a year ahead of him in nurses’ training at Evangelical Hospital School of Nursing. She had encouraged him to keep applying for nursing school. He and another male were the first men to be trained in Evangelical Hospital School of Nursing in surgery.
He was accepted in anesthesia school in Minneapolis School of Anesthesia. He wrote to his friend Sandra Johnson who graduated a year ahead of him from nursing school because he knew she planned to go to anesthesia school and asked her if she could see if she could get in the same class, and she did. They graduated in 1961 and both worked at Swedish Hospital (now HCMC) until the fall of 1962. During this time, their friendship developed into love and they were married in Alexander, Iowa at Sandra’s church on June 24, 1962.
In September 1962, they both changed hospitals and went to North Memorial. In December 1963, they had their first child, Jen. While Bill was in basic training with the Air Force, their second child, Michelle, was born in that same month. January 1967. Bill was assigned to Forbes Air Force Base in Topeka, Kansas, as captain in anesthesia. In August 1968, their youngest child, Darren, was born. He was supposed to be a girl, Heather, but what can you do? Bill was discharged in January 1969 and the family relocated to Minneapolis and he returned to North Memorial where he worked until retirement in 1996. Sandra returned to North Memorial also until she retired in 1995 due to arthritis.
They lived in Plymouth and all three children graduated from Wayzata Senior High. They were there until the spring of 1993 when they moved to Golden Valley.
He is survived by wife Sandra, daughter Jennifer and her son Clay, daughter Michelle (aka Measha) and her husband, Pat, their kids Tahllia Johnston, and Hayden and Ray Kallemeyn, and son Darren and his wife Jen, with their son Connor. He has living siblings Mary, Mike (Mick) and Dean, and a shit-load of nieces and nephews. His brother Roy, sisters Helen and Jean, and brother-in-law Ed crossed over before him. Mary’s husband Ed, his sister Helen, brother-in-law Keith, and Dean’s wife Barb were waiting for him in Heaven.
Bill enjoyed watching TV, especially the news, and sitting on the deck watching birds and visiting neighbors. He was an avid reader and always had several books going at once.
In 2018, he started getting dementia. Still knowing family and able to read, TV news was a constant friend until November 2023. He became ill the week before Thanksgiving and after 3 days in the hospital, he developed COVID, then continued downhill until he was transferred to hospice in a nursing facility in Stillwater.
Bill crossed over after 62 years of a happy marriage. He is survived by Sandra, his long-suffering, also smart-assy wife, his smart-ass by genetics children Jennifer, Michelle and Darren; his son-in-law Pat who is married to Michelle and knows his stubborn, smart ass ways, his daughter-in-law Jen, who also knows those ways, and his grandchildren (Tahllia, Clay, Hayden, Ray and Connor) who are also afflicted with a predisposition towards smart-assy-ness and stubbornness. He leaves an emptiness in all their hearts.
For those who knew him well, and even not that well, he was a sarcastic SOB, and funny as hell. He could find humor in anything. He also was a great friend to all and made everyone feel welcome in his circle. No one was a stranger in his house or around him. As my dad, I know he welcomed everyone he met into his heart. He remembered friends of mine from 40 or more years ago and asked me about how they were doing. He wanted me to tell them he was thinking about them. His memory was awful for 5 or 6 years but he still remembered me and my siblings’ friends and wanted them to know he did think about them.
It was difficult being around him the past few years sometimes. Dad wasn’t Dad anymore, and the Dad I knew didn’t exist anymore. Dementia took so much of him away and it was hard to be around him some days. He was impatient, cranky, absent and silent at times. He couldn’t carry on conversations like he used to. He couldn’t remember things, whether it was something he said or something he did. Towards the end, he forgot his kids and especially his grandkids. Thankfully, he always remembered Mom. Me, not always, and I didn’t let it hurt me because I was expecting it. It hurt me more when he forgot my siblings and my son and nieces and nephews. I wanted to hold them and assure them it was okay and he still loved them.
The last few weeks were hard. He ate and drank less and looked more and more skeletal. Being a former hospice nurse, I understood and expected it, but I know it was hard for my family. It still hurt me as much as it hurt my family. By the end, he looked like a concentration camp survivor. I wish I could have taken that image from my family and I wish they didn’t have to see that. I was expecting it but they weren’t.
For those who knew him in the prime of his life, who were friends during the good times, for family who haven’t seen him for a while, remember him as he was in the prime of his life, when he was happy and healthy and had all his faculties about him. Remember him as the smart ass, loving, friendly, caring person who welcomed everyone into his circle of family. See him sitting on the deck, drinking a rum and Coke, smoking a cigarette (yeah, I know that’s bad), making sure all the neighbors are okay, feeding the birds, and reading a book.
If you didn’t see him during the dementia years, count yourselves lucky and know that you had the best of him. Know that he loved you, thought about you, talked about you, and that he’s looking down on you right now. You’ll miss him but he’ll be looking down on you and waiting for you to meet him some day. He’ll be a hell of a guardian angel as he will care as much for you in death as he did for you in life.